When I kicked off my conference business to bring thought leaders together onto one stage to discuss the convergence of social, location, and mobile, I knew we were just scratching the surface. Through Social-Loco and Mobile-Loco I have watched startups and big companies take the stage and make their predictions about where the market would go.
Over the years, I saw more brands, agencies and retailers attend the events and engage with startups. It was frustrating to watch people from different industries trying to communicate -- it was as if they were speaking two different languages. Brands needed scalable technology solutions that could deliver the holy grail of 1:1 consumer engagement. Startups needed to monetize with brand dollars but only had a few million users (at best). Brands ultimately went back to Google and Facebook as they realized startups didn’t have the ability to deliver solutions that could scale or provide the perfect market fit.
Last year, I partnered up with BlueRun Ventures Operating Partner Cheryl Cheng to launch BrandGarage, an open platform for brands and startups to engage and start testing concepts and working together. Our goal is to provide opportunities for brands to work with startups through deploying test budgets for proof of concepts and rapid in-market tests. We work with a wide range of brands and retailers.
Sears, for example, has invested both internally and through BrandGarage to drive innovation in mobile commerce. Their new mobile strategy group is led by Andy Chu (formerly of Microsoft). They will reintroduce six of their mobile APIs this month at a brand challenge geared towards engaging startups and developers.
(Event details for August 24-25 developer challenge here: http://sears-dev-challenge-sf.eventbrite.com/) Instead of traditional hackathon type prizes, Sears has committed marketing budget ($40K to start) to bring an idea to market for this holiday.
We've learned a few interesting things this past year:
1. Brands are all over the spectrum in terms of how equipped they are to work with startups. Some have investment funds, incubators, APIs, etc. Others have nothing. Regardless, every brand and retailer’s board is asking them the same things: what are you going to do about mobile? Big data? Cloud? Understanding the key business questions facing each brand is critical to its success as they adopt new technologies and strategies to stay current or try to carve out a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
2. Analytics and data is king. Although brands say they want to invest more in mobile and social, they need to justify the spend vis-à-vis traditional marketing dollars. Startups need to be armed with the analytics that can help them make those comparisons and trade-offs.
3. Solve the business problem. Every brand has a pretty specific business problem that they are trying to solve: generally category sales decline, maintain market leadership, explain new product benefits etc. The startups that we have seen get “fast-tracked” with brands have solved business problems and used their technology platforms to show measurable business results.
Brand dollars are definitely moving more and more towards new and emerging digital media. Startups and brands should be ready to roll up their sleeves and do some testing to find those next platforms that can really reach and engage customers.